What to do in Florida

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A day in Tampa Bay

Once upon a time we woke up really early and headed to Tampa for a fun-filled day. Sure that opening line sounds dreamy and effortless, but it was just that! My husband planned the whole thing; he even picked the restaurants which is usually MY thing! And you know what…our day was perfect! Here is a guideline of how we pulled off our day with toddlers, naps and instagrammable momentos!

Firstly, we planned ahead. We knew that the focus was to visit the Florida Museum in Tampa Bay. We also knew that food is always a key player in our outings. Another thing is that I blog! And well, I needed to document the trip as much as possible and create content-worthy images for you guys! Ok, so here we go:

The night before, we packed two bags. One bag had our clothes, blankets, sweaters (just in case) and a first aid kit. Second bag was our “day bag”. This was chic diaper bag on steroids fully equipped with diapers, wipes, water, snacks, camera and accessories. The evening before our big outing, we set our  alarms for 6am, and we pre-styled our girls’ hairs before bedtime. We knew that we would be taking pictures and figured neither Alegra or Eliana would let us touch their hair at 6am! Genius right!? We also made a route map of “musts” and “kid-permitting” places/things we wanted to do/see.

Morning of…

As planned, parents were up at 6am, Dad handled breakfast and to-go snacks. Mom handled getting ready and dressing girls. It was important to feed the girls breakfast in their pjs, so we had clean outfits for our first stop. Everyone was ready and in the car by 6:40 a.m.  The girls as suspected slept through the entire ride to Tampa. We arrived to the infamous Oxford Exchange,  exactly when they opened 8AM. We were promptly seated by the beautiful patio. 

A little about Oxford Exchange (OE). It is nestled in a  stone street with a southern vibe across from a church. Upon opening the doors you are welcomed by art. The floor is a beautiful black and white pattern setting  the tone for the rest of the space. Now, OE  is not just a restaurant…when you enter the space, Darby Parker, then a book store,  shoe polishing services, a coffee shop, Aesop skincare store, and a shop featuring curated pieces from the restaurant and favorite things by owners. It is also home to The Commerce Club, “a quiet, comfortable and professional space for work, study and private meetings”. Though, thats awesome, I was here for the food (please check out my insta review on their pancakes) and the architectural beauty of this structure.  The restaurant serves “weekday breakfast and lunch, weekend brunch, and afternoon tea. No matter where guests are seated, you are surrounded by art, an open kitchen, and a sunlit conservatory. The menu offers fresh and seasonal items, a new translation of the classic bistro. Lastly, I think the modern brutalist designs remind me a little of my beloved NYC, and a little of what I have brought into my home… brass, black and white with pops of green <3.

After OE, we refreshed the girls, changed them into comfy clothes. We did the same. How? Umm we have an SUV with tinted windows lol. So in a breeze Los Vasquez were a united front again, ready for the Florida Aquarium (www.flaquarium.org). The aquarium was only 12 minutes away; we were there in no time. The girls were mesmerized  by the big cruise ships at the bay, and it must be something in the air… but it enticed us to plan a cruise trip (I have never been). We paid $6 for parking. Admission per adult is $30, children 2 years and older pay $7. We decided to sign up for the yearly membership for $130 for a party of 3, Nana does not pay until next year, when we renew. Here is a direct link to the membership plans. 

Once inside, we were reimbursed for parking now that we were members! (Actually, I went to customer service and asked for my money back assuming my rights as a member). There, I also learned that we had tons of perks as members, including 50% the zoo and other parks within the SHARE programs (click on link above for more). We then start making our way through the exhibits. The girls seem extremely pleased with the Madagascar exhibits, maybe for its tropical feel and chirping birds flying above our heads. I almost forgot I was indoors. The overlook exhibits are always a winner here and at any other aquarium. Seeing all of the bigger species dance around and being able to witness it all from a tunnel, is truly a privilege. I think this is where we claimed a corner and camped for a while to just admire the beauty of the sharks. Its was a great opportunity to show Alegra what their natural habitat looks like, and how not all fish belong in one pond (if you know what I mean lol). We then stumbled upon the outdoor terrace overlooking the Splash Pad… I honestly did not even know it existed, and frankly thought it was not part of the aquarium. The overlook view from the terrace was such a treat, we were really able to appreciate the bay from above, and the ships of course. Alegra ran around with the sun in her eyes making the best photo worthy squinty face. From there we passed by the coral reef conservation, this was a solemn reminder that our planet needs our TLC. 

Around 12:00pm, we needed to munch on something and put our girls down for a nap. We took a quick drive to Ybor City, which was maybe 8 minutes from the aquarium. Randy was craving real pan Cubano, and some say that La Segunda bakery is one of the last real Cuban bakeries around. Some say this place was a Theodore Roosevelt favorite. By now, Eliana was asleep and Alegra was borderline cranky. We took turns going into La Segunda. We bought cheese and guava pastries (duh!), a 4 foot long pan Cubano, some empanadas among other goodies.  While the girls slept in the car, we drove around Ybor, sight-seeing and enjoying our treats. We stopped by the Ybor Park, I chased some roosters and busted the myth (I did not believe there were roosters wandering the mean streets of Ybor lol). We stopped at Columbia Restaurant to make a reservation and continued on our car-tour. Randy got a nice treat with his purchase of handmade cigars. When the girls woke up, we walked around the downtown area and were tempted to visit the museum, but our reservation at Columbia was approaching.

Ahh Columbia Restaurant. With over 5K reviews on TripAdvisor and another 6K on Yelp… rating about 4.5 stars, this Spanish restaurant (which can easily be confused for Cuban) is the place to eat at while in Tampa. I was like a kid standing in front of the biggest rollercoaster ready for the ride! Owned and operated by 5 generations over the last 110 years.  It is the oldest restaurant in Florida, founded in 1905 and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world! We came here for the salad, and boy what a salad that was! I added camarones al ajillo to mine. I will leave my food details for my pending published review. But in short, Columbia was quite a delightful dining  experience! My eyes wandered with so much art around me and was floored by the volume of patrons. Please be sure to stop by here, its flagship location, or its other sister restaurants around Florida.

After this late lunch, early dinner we headed home. The sun was low on our drive back, and it was wonderful remising our day on our drive back.  We were home around 6pm, and we couldn’t believe how much we had done and enjoyed in just a few hours. This all because of our awesome planning. I thank my husband for executing this idea and treating our family with a  day to remember by the bay. #dadandmomwin

 

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NYC Chick moves to Lake Nona, Orlando, FL

a neo-modern community…

I’m a big city girl who’s familiar with big city living. When my husband and I decided to uproot our small family from NYC to the burbs in Central Florida, it was a genuine search for space, growth and a suburbia lifestyle for our girls. Fast forward to one year later where I’m homesick and missing the constant social environment and activities centered lifestyle we were so accustomed to. After some research and intense discussion with my hubby, we decided once again to make a move…this time from Kissimmee, FL to Laureate Park a trés chic community, nestled in Lake Nona, Orlando, FL.

Can you spot my new digs?

My previous home was great! However, everything around me was too rural, I wasn’t crazy about the neighborhood schools’ performance and the local dining experience was blah. Discovering Laureate Park in Lake Nona, FL was a dream…literally I dreamt about a place where I had the best of both worlds: family-centered and trendy community. Laureate Park provides both plus so much more! Laureate Park how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Lol, check out the top reasons why I fell in love with this amazing community:

1. Top builders from across the globe are right here! I know fancy and the architectural designs of the homes are beyond anything I’ve seen. Just check out the www.crafthomes.com to see some amazing designs, like our very own Brewer model, which we love (home debut blog, coming this spring!!!)

2. Network, NETWORK, nEtWoRk. Demographically, tons of young professionals and young families. An ideal place for new families with working mom and/or dad.

3. Location. Guys, 10 minutes from the airport! Who has a constant traveling husband? I do! So convenient for my husband on his travel days. I was doing an hour drive to the airport with my two little sopranos in the back seat 2-3 times a week! Imagine driving an hour to the airport then another hour back home with two screaming toddlers. No bueno!

4. Super active. I live in a resort. Almost. So many activities and things to do! Our community calendar is amazing, just peek at our Facebook community page (https://www.facebook.com/learnlakenona/) We also have a community manager every few blocks. Loads to do like,  #winewednesdays where each home within a community has the opportunity to host an evening of BYO, Amazing Explorers Academy (aexplorers.com/) for the little ones, Canvas Restaurant (https://canvaslakenona.com), breathtaking golf clubs, an abundance and variety of parks – nature parks, toddler parks (every home is within walking distance of one), and amusement parks of course (have you heard of Disney???) In addition, a water park is scheduled to open this summer!!! This list can go on, I can talk all day about “Art after dark”, “movie night by the park” and community yoga! But what I must also highlight is the community’s active presence in instagram (only mi favorito)… Lake Nona’s handle is @learnlakenona. There are some very cool and engaging accounts like @nonahoodlatino and @lakenonasocial that you will love! (I will save these for another blog).

This video is 4 yrs old!!!! can I say it’s 100xs better!?

5. Community of the Future. Lake Nona is living in the year 3019. Going outside of the neighborhood makes me feel as if I’m a time traveler going back in time. Seriously. For example Laureate Park is one of the first U.S. gigabit communities and one of nine Iconic Smart + Connected communities in the world! Cutting-edge tech is imbedded in every corner of this community.  The most technically advanced medical facilities are situated right here. Nemours Children’s Hospital (nemours.org), Orlando VA Hospital (orlando.va.gov), and several university medical research centers. I mean come on do I need to say anymore? My list could have been much more extensive, but I’ll save the rest of the ‘hood for you guys to explore and see how great it truly is. If you’re thinking about visiting Orlando, come to Lake Nona, don’t give it much thought – just come down and see for yourself why I’m living in “the happiest place on earth”! (Sorry Disney…I had to borrow that line).

So here it is, this explains my grand excitement for being part of this community, and my muse for the recent changes in my blog. I have truly found home. I am dying to read your responses! let’s continue the chit chat on here and @onceuponamami … thank you for reading and watching!

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Best Bathing Suits for Babies & Toddlers!

Did someone say summer? 
Hola Mamis!
Did you know that summer is right around the corner? Seriously, it is! Seemed like a long time coming but we’re almost there! With the UV rays getting kicked up a notch and the kiddies wanting outside water play, now is the time to start thinking about how best to protect the little ones’ skin whilst also thinking about fashion for their water activities!
Let’s go through the clothing options available for our little ones’ mermaid/merman lifestyle this summer.
‘Kini Klad:
Bikinis are great, but expose a lot of skin and provide minimal protection against sun damage. While they may look adorable on our tiny diva, they don’t serve the skin much justice from the sun’s wrath!
Mami scale: 1
gap.com rainbow dot bikini Gymboree.com flamingo ruffled bikini
Tank Yank!:
Tankinis are one of my favorites…they’re almost like a one piece, but better! The ability to easily access the diaper area makes changing sandy/wet babies a breeze all while baby’s top is covered. It also adds a little more sun protection than a bikini.
Mami scale: 3
Rashional Guard:
Rash guard two piece (*insert heart emoji like so:😍*), my favorite!!!! These rash guards have come a long way. There are so many beautiful designs available with ruffles, accentuated sleeves and gorgeous patterns. Aside from the fashion aspect, this type of swimwear provides maximum sun protection and also bug protection!  Just like it’s two piece counterparts the tankini and bikini, this also gives parents easy diaper change access. Major perk if your are faaaaar from a private area to change baby’s diaper. The rash guard, protects baby’s arms, back, belly and neck areas against rashes, scrapes and sun damage. This is definitely my go-to design!
Mami scale: 5
One and done:
In my opinion the one piece swimsuit is the most beautiful design of them all. How
ever, what I dislike is the difficulty in changing baby’s diaper. I mean having to remove the entire s
uit to access an unpredictable mess? Yeah, no thanks. This design I think complicates things, even for a potty trained tot. By the time you’re finished changing
baby and getting her out and back in the swimsuit, you’re pretty much over it and done! Love your beautiful designs one-piece, but not your drama!
Mami scale: 2
rashguard gray
Swim trunk funk?
Oh don’t be sad for your little guys, I didn’t forget about you. Although it may seem like there’s only one option for your boys (trunks), the patterns, prints and styles available for them are endless. I do preference trunks that have drawstrings in the event they are a little big you can easily adjust them for the right fit and still have the trunks for the following year! That’s called a Mom Win! Don’t forget to pair the trunks up with a rash guard to protect him from the sun.
Mami scale: 5
Let me know your thoughts on swimwear for baby and your experiences with the options out there! I’d love to hear from you!
Also keep an out for my review on best Sun Block lotions for babies/tots this week!
Cheers,
Mary